Audeze LCD-X headphones Page 2

A track I played during my 2013 presentations at audio shows and audiophile-society meetings was Eriks Esenvalds' O Salutaris Hostia, from the album A Drop in the Ocean, by the Portland State Chamber Choir conducted by Ethan Sperry (16-bit/44.1kHz master file for CD, PDK-C-01). I had mastered this CD for Stereophile's Erick Lichte, who had both edited the recording and produced some of the sessions. Massed voices are very difficult for audio systems to reproduce, because the spectrally rich content is sensitive to intermodulation distortion. This can be particularly problematic with headphones, because using a single drive-unit to cover the entire audioband runs the risk of intermodulation.

Driven by the BlockHead, however, the Audeze headphones reproduced this recording with stunning smoothness. The clearly presented interplay between the two similar-sounding sopranos in O Salutaris Hostia, one positioned mid-left, the other mid-right, raised goose bumps every time I listened to it. And even with the closely miked and multitracked Phil Collinses in "Tearing and Breaking Down," from Johnny Boy Would Love This . . . A Tribute to John Martyn (256kbps AAC file), I could follow each of the vocal lines with the BlockHead-powered balanced LCD-Xes more readily than when they were conventionally connected with a ¼" jack plug.


As always when I review a transducer of some kind, I check the low-frequency behavior by playing the half-step–spaced tonebursts on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2). Driven by the Benchmark DAC1, the Audeze LCD-Xes spoke cleanly and evenly in the bass, with no doubling (second-harmonic distortion) audible—a difficult test for headphones to pass. These tones stop at 32Hz; the 1/3-octave warble tone at 25Hz was also clean, and I could just hear the tone at 20Hz at normal listening levels.

Sennheiser Comparisons
For my comparisons, I used my Benchmark DAC1, with its two headphone outputs, fed S/PDIF data via TosLink. I did my best to match playback levels with pink noise, but with the lower sensitivities of the Sennheisers compared with the Audezes, this was a little more approximate than I would have liked.

At $500, the Sennheiser HD650s are less than a third the price of the LCD-Xes, but they've been my reference headphones for the past 10 years or so. Some have said that the HD650s are too polite and lacking in the top octave, but I've always found their balance easy on the ear—a positive factor in prolonged listening sessions.

Tonally, the HD650s sounded very similar to the LCD-Xes. In "Fever," from the Tierney Sutton Band's Desire (ALAC files ripped from CD, Telarc CD-83685), Sutton's voice sounded very close through both sets of headphones. The duetting double basses in this track, however, sounded a little constrained and too tubby with the Sennheisers, with less low bass apparent. As much as I enjoyed the HD650s, the LCD-Xes retrieved more detail from this beautifully recorded track. There was more space around the snare drum, and the closer perspective on the hi-hat cymbals compared with the snare was more obvious. Round One to the LCD-X.

Sennheiser's HD800 headphones, at $1500, go almost head-to-head with the $1699 Audezes. In his July 2009 review, Wes Phillips declared that the HD800 "very well may be the best headphone I've ever heard." Wes commented on "how nuanced [were] the shades of soft and softer—and loud and louder—[were] through the HD800s." Such was also my experience with a borrowed pair of HD800s. In Paul Young's treatment of the Daryl Hall classic "Every Time You Go Away," from Super Hits (256kbps MP3), both the electric sitar and Pino Palladino's fretless bass guitar were reproduced with convincing verisimilitude by the HD800s. But against the Audezes, the Sennheisers sounded somewhat brighter and less laid-back, a balance that was less forgiving of the splashy-sounding snare drum and cymbals in this 1980s recording. Beth Orton's breathy voice in her reading of "Go Down Easy," from the John Martyn tribute (256kbps AAC file), sounded slightly more sibilant through the HD800s than the LCD-Xes, though with noticeably more extended extreme highs.

Although the Audezes were darker than the Sennheisers, they were as good at revealing fine recorded detail. In fact, the LCD-Xes reminded me of the recorded detail that could be heard with Stax's Lambda electrostatics, with the important difference that I didn't become fatigued after long listening sessions, as I used to with the Lambdas.

The LCD-Xes scored when it came to the low frequencies. The HD800s are excellent at bass weight and definition, but with "Get Lucky," from Daft Punk's Random Access Memories (24/88.2k AIFF, Columbia/HDtracks 88883716862), there was more of a growl to the bottom octaves of Nathan East's bass guitar, and slightly better differentiation between the sounds of the bass guitar and kick drum. This edge in low-frequency performance also allowed the LCD-Xes to present a slightly more convincing sense of hall ambience with the Portland State Chamber Choir recording.

"O Salutaris Hostia" sounded deliciously smooth through both headphones; both allowed me to hear deep into the delicate acoustic of the Queens church where I'd recorded Bob Reina's band; both were equally revealing of the reduction in sound quality resulting from downsampling when I played 96kHz files without Pure Music and with the Mac set to 44.1kHz; and both were equally comfortable for long-term listening. Which headphones will be preferred for midrange and high-frequency reproduction will come down to personal taste. For me, its performance in the low frequencies swung the needle toward the Audeze LCD-X.

Although, to my surprise, the Astell&Kern AK100, with its output impedance of 22.5 ohms, could still drive the Audeze LCD-Xes to satisfactorily high levels, I will stick with the Ultimate Ears and JH Audio IEMs for music on the move, as both models provide the necessary suppression of external noise. But for listening at home, the beautifully finished and equally beautiful-sounding Audeze LCD-Xes have seduced me away from my allegiance to Sennheisers. Highly recommended!

Footnote 1: Other than the sound quality, one reason I've stuck with Sennheisers over the years is that almost all the parts are replaceable. Unlike with regular audio components, the listener wears headphones, which means they come in for a lot of physical abuse.

Footnote 2: The last time I auditioned planar-magnetic headphones was in 1978. I had borrowed a pair of the excellent PWBs, designed and manufactured by one Peter W. Belt, later to find fame, if not fortune, with his alternate-reality "tuning" accessories.

Audeze LLC,
10725 Ellis Avenue, Unit E
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(657) 464-7029

Regadude's picture

John! John! John! What has come over you?! A few days ago, you posted a great article about the dangers of over compression:

And here you are testing 1700$ headphones, with (among other things) an iPod and lossy mp3 files. JOOOHHNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What happened to "source first"? What happended to at least having decent media? Geez, I could understand digital files that are at least CD quality. I could understand listening to such files on a decent streamer. But, mp3s on an iPod?!?!?!??!

I am not angry at you John. Just so very disappointed...

If Michael Fremer reads this, please Mikey, take John out for a drink. Give him a good "talking to". Set him straight and give him sh*t if you have to. Maybe then John can review these glorious headphones with a real amp and a good quality source (how about some vinyl?).

I need a drink... sad

John Atkinson's picture

RegaDude wrote:
A few days ago, you posted a great article about the dangers of over compression:

And here you are testing 1700$ headphones, with (among other things) an iPod and lossy mp3 files. JOOOHHNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You're confusing the two different uses of the word "compression." As I thought I had clarified in the footnote to my artlcle that you linked to, the unmusical "squeezing" referred to analog compression, raising the level of the quiet passges to be as loud as the loud passages. I was not referring to the use of lossy codecs to reduce file size. It is quite possible both to have an MP3 of uncompressed music and a lossless file of compressed music.

I didn't use an iPod to audition the Audeze headphones. But what's wrong with using an iPod?

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Regadude's picture

Ok, so you didn't use an ipod to review the Audeze. My mistake. I do fail to understand why an ipod would be mentionned in a review of high end equipment.

What's wrong with an ipod? Nothing, if it's used in the right context. I wear my ipod when and only when I jog. I jog with it in rain, snow and freezing temperatures, When I get home from my jog, I throw the weather beaten, sweat covered thing in the back of my closet. Then the real system comes on... Ipods have no place in a serious system. Ipods have no place in an entry level audiophile system. 

An ipod sounds like crap even in Mikey's megabuck system:

John Atkinson's picture

Regadude wrote:
Ipods have no place in a serious system. Ipods have no place in an entry level audiophile system. 

An ipod sounds like crap even in Mikey's megabuck system:

I understood that Mikey was referring to MP3 files in the linked article, not iPods in general. The two are not related. Yes, while you can play lossy-compressed MP3 and AAC files on an iPod, for a decade now iPods can play both lossless files and uncompressed WAV/AIFF files. As such, an iPod is a perfectly legitimate source of CD-resolution music.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

arve's picture

Stereophile's sister magazine InnerFidelity has a full set of measurements here:

Those not familiar with headphone measurements should also read read

ElementAudio's picture

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